book review | Memories with Maya
July 30, 2013 by Giulio Prisco
What happens when you mix virtual reality, haptic interfaces, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence?
That’s what Clyde deSouza explores in near-future science-fiction novel Memories with Maya.
He introduces the “Wizer,” an augmented-reality, see-through visor driven by AGI (artificial general intelligence) — Google Glass on steroids.
It’s coupled with 3D scans of real environments generated by wall-mounted laser cameras (think next-gen Kinect) to insert remote participants seamlessly in real environments, Holodeck-style, DeSouza explained to me.
These “dirrogates” — digital surrogates of your friends — are real-time 3D stereoscopic avatars driven by real movements and body/face language. They can visit your living room from the other side of the planet.
Or, of course, your bedroom. “Teledildonics” (virtual haptic sex) is naturally one of the first applications of Wizer technology. The novel has many very-explicit virtual sex scenes between DJ/hacker Dan and his girlfriend Maya. Sometimes, they even have old-fashioned physical sex.
Dan and Maya’s brother Krish are partners in the development of Wizer technology and applications. Dan is initially focused on the club scene. He has invented a music-driven haptic pad that does things to your genitals when you sit.
But things change when Krish and Dan are invited to the Artificial Intelligence Research Incubator (“AYREE”) in Mumbai, India. (Maya and Krish are natives of India, and Dan is also half-Indian.)
Artificial reality generated by drones?
AYREE backers consider Wizer technology a good strategic investment, so things pick up speed. Dirrogate technology is extended to outdoors environments, where drone-mounted laser cameras generate and update geocoded 3D virtual renderings of real places on-the-fly. Now you can walk with your friends and even play virtual sports anywhere on the planet, and your friends see you as a dirrogate in their Wizers.
DeSouza recreates a compelling near-future Mumbai with its curious mix of poverty, wealth, high tech, and tradition. Amazing virtual-cricket scenes illustrate this upcoming technology (the game is very popular in India — one of the many things left by the British, where kids play cricket on the street).
Although Wizer technology is the real protagonist of the book, Dan, Maya, Krish, and other characters are also well developed. And the love story between Dan and Maya has touching moments.
But the Wizer of course also has law-enforcement and homeland-security uses. A Wizer operator with drone-mounted sensors and weapons can do real damage. So it is not surprising that murderous violence inevitably follows in this cautionary tale.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Dan repurposes the technology for use in clubs. But he’s really obsessed with the idea of bringing to life his memories of deceased friends — and creating new memories of them.
His AI-powered dirrogates can continue to “live” in the places that were dear to the deceased, with life-like behaviors extrapolated from real memories and videos. They can go to a window to watch the sunset when the original person would have done so, or dance to the tune of the person’s favorite tracks. To a Wizer user, the deceased are really there. They even post new pictures and videos of the deceased to social networks.
“Memories with Maya is a story that aims to seed ideas, grounded in hard science, on how AI, AR, and advances in the field of deep learning and cybernetic reconstruction will eventually allow us to virtually resurrect the dead, or allow us the option of substrate-independent minds,” says DeSouza.* “A time will soon come when questions will need to be answered on the ethical use of such technology and its impact on intimate human relationships and society.”
DeSouza plans to begin writing a sequel later in the year. I look forward to meeting again some of the characters of Memories with Maya … and not just those who make it to the end of the book alive.
* Dr. Martine Rothblatt suggests that advanced AI and other technology will be able to bring memories of a deceased person (pictures, videos, writings, social network updates, etc.) back to life, as a “mindclone” — a software version of your mind who thinks and feels like the original. “If your body died, but you had a mindclone, you would not feel that you personally died, although the body would be missed more sorely than amputees miss their limbs.” I think it would be very cool to combine this concept with the advanced augmented-reality technology described in the novel.